I recently purchased a booked titled What’s in a Name? Origins of Station Names on the London Underground. It deals with the history of all 270 names of London Underground stations (tube network). Flicking through the pages, it became clear that the names had very interesting origins in Anglo Saxon, Celtic, Norman or other roots. The names explained an element of the local history and gave a deeper insight.
My mind started contemplating names and their importance. In this article, I will explore a particular aspect of names within the Christian denominations. There are an enormous number of Christian denominations. I prefer to use the term denomination, rather than sects or cults, as these have negative connotations. My purpose in writing is to stimulate thinking and discourse.
This article considers the importance of names in daily life and then examines the meaning of some denomination names, and in particular explores one denomination known as Jehovah’s Witnesses. This denomination is chosen because their name was introduced in 1931. They are known for their public proselytizing and the importance they attach to the name. Finally, an examination will be made on the biblical perspective of the use of the name.
Importance of Names
Here are two examples in the modern business world of the importance of brand names. Gerald Ratner gave a speech at the Royal Albert Hall on 23 April 1991 as part of the IOD annual conference where he stated the following about Ratners’ (the jewellers) products:
“We also do cut-glass sherry decanters complete with six glasses on a silver-plated tray that your butler can serve you drinks on, all for £4.95. People say, ‘How can you sell this for such a low price?’ I say, ‘Because it’s total crap.’”
The rest is history. The company was destroyed. The customers did not trust the brand name any longer. The name became toxic.
The second example is one I personally experienced; it involved the infamous iPhone antenna problems. The iPhone 4 was released in 2010 and there was fault whereby it dropped calls. This was unacceptable as the brand stands for innovative product, style, reliability and high-quality customer care. For the first few weeks, Apple would not acknowledge the problem and it was becoming big news. The late Steve Jobs intervened about six weeks later and admitted to the issue and offered a phone case as a fix. The intervention was to save the reputation of the company.
Parents expecting a new baby give a great deal of deliberation to the name. The name will play a role in defining the character and destiny of that child. It can include a tribute to a much-loved relative, or a great figure in life, etc. Often a great deal of heated debate verging on shouting might also be involved. Those from Africa often give children 3 or 4 names to represent the family, tribe, the day of birth, etc.
In the Jewish world, there is the thought of if a thing is not named it does not exist. According to one reference work: “The Hebrew word for soul is neshamah. Central to that word, the middle two letters, shin and mem, make the word shem, Hebrew for ‘name.’ Your name is the key to your soul.”
All of this shows how important a name is to human beings and the various functions it serves.
Christianity and Its Denominations
All the major religions have various denominations, and these are often defined by the names given to different movements and schools of thought. Christianity will be the main focus of the discussion. All denominations claim Jesus as their founder and hold the Bible as their foundational reference point and source of authority. The Catholic Church also claims church tradition, whilst those from a Protestant root will insist on Sola Scriptura. The doctrines might vary, but all claim to be “Christian”, and often state others are not necessarily “Christian”. The questions arise: Why not call yourself Christian? Why the need to be called something else?
- What does Catholic mean?
The Greek root of the term “Catholic” means “according to (kata-) the whole (holos),” or more colloquially, “universal”. At the time of Constantine, the word meant the universal church. After the schisms with the Eastern Orthodox churches, it has—since 1054 CE—been used by the church based in Rome with the Pope as its head. This word really means the whole or universal. The English word church comes from the Greek word “Kyriakos” which means “belonging to the Lord”.The question is: Does not a Christian already belong to the Lord? Does one have to be known as a Catholic to belong?
- Why be called a Baptist?
Historians trace the earliest church labeled “Baptist” back to 1609 in Amsterdam with English Separatist John Smyth as its pastor. This reformed church believed in freedom of conscience, separation of church and state, and baptism only of voluntary, cognizant believers. The name comes from a rejection of infant baptism and the full submersion of the adult for baptism.Do not all Christians have to undergo baptism like Jesus? Were Jesus’ followers who underwent baptism in the Bible known as Baptists or Christians?
- Where does the term Quaker come from?
A young man named George Fox was dissatisfied with the teachings of the Church of England and non-conformists. He had a revelation that, “there is one, even, Christ Jesus, who can speak to thy condition”.In 1650, Fox was brought before the magistrates Gervase Bennet and Nathaniel Barton, on a charge of religious blasphemy. According to George Fox’s autobiography, Bennet “was the first that called us Quakers, because I bade them tremble at the word of the Lord”. It is thought that George Fox was referring to Isaiah 66:2 or Ezra 9:4. Thus, the name Quaker began as a way of ridiculing George Fox’s admonition, but became widely accepted and is used by some Quakers. Quakers also described themselves using terms such as true Christianity, Saints, Children of the Light, and Friends of the Truth, reflecting terms used in the New Testament by members of the early Christian church.Here the name given was one of ridicule but how does this differ from New Testament Christian? Did not the Christians mentioned in the Bible face ridicule and persecution for their faith?
All the above names are a way of identifying differences in belief systems. Does the Bible encourage this type of identification among Christians in light of Ephesians 4:4-6:
“One body there is, and one spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
First century Christianity does not seem to have focused on separate names.
This is further reinforced in the letter from the Apostle Paul to the congregation in Corinth. There were divisions but they did not resort to creating names; they just aligned themselves with different teachers as shown at 1 Corinthians 1:11-13:
“For some from the house of Chloe have informed me regarding you, my brothers, that there are dissensions among you. What I mean is this, that each one of you says: “I belong to Paul,” “But I to Apollos,” “But I to Cephas,” “But I to Christ.” Is the Christ divided? Paul was not executed on the stake for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”
Here Paul corrects the division but nevertheless, they all still had only one name. Interestingly the names Paul, Apollos and Cephas represent the Roman, Greek and Jewish traditions. This could have also contributed to some of the divisions.
Now let us consider a 20th Century denomination and its name.
In 1879 Charles Taze Russell (Pastor Russell) published the first edition of Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence. It had an initial print run of 6,000 copies which grew as the years progressed. Those who subscribed to this magazine later formed into ekklesia or congregations. At the time of his death in 1916 it is estimated that over 1,200 congregations had voted him as their “Pastor”. This became known as the Bible Student Movement or sometimes International Bible Students.
Following Russell’s death, Joseph Franklin Rutherford (Judge Rutherford) became the second President of the Watchtower and Bible Tract Society (WTBTS) in 1916. There followed schisms within the board of directors and various Bible Students fragmented to different camps. This is all extensively documented.
As the groups had fragmented, there was a need to identify and separate the original group still associated with the WTBTS. This was addressed in 1931 as stated in the book Jehovah’s Witnesses – Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom:
“In time, it became increasingly evident that in addition to the designation Christian, the congregation of Jehovah’s servants truly did need a distinctive name. The meaning of the name Christian had become distorted in the public mind because people who claimed to be Christians often had little or no idea who Jesus Christ was, what he taught, and what they should be doing if they really were his followers. Additionally, as our brothers progressed in their understanding of God’s Word, they clearly saw the need to be separate and distinct from those religious systems that fraudulently claimed to be Christian.”
A very interesting judgement is made as it claims that the word “Christian” has become distorted and thus arose a need to separate themselves from “fraudulent Christianity”.
“…in 1931, we embraced the truly distinctive name Jehovah’s Witnesses. Author Chandler W. Sterling refers to this as “the greatest stroke of genius” on the part of J. F. Rutherford, then president of the Watch Tower Society. As that writer viewed the matter, this was a clever move that not only provided an official name for the group but also made it easy for them to interpret all the Biblical references to “witness” and “witnessing” as applying specifically to Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
Interestingly, Chandler W. Sterling was an Episcopalian Minister (a bishop later) and one who belongs to “fraudulent Christianity” is the one who gives such high praise. The praise is for the genius of a man, but no mention is made of the hand of God. In addition, that clergyman states that this meant applying biblical verses directly to Jehovah’s Witnesses, implying that they were trying to make the Bible fit what they were doing.
The chapter continues with part of the resolution:
“THAT we have great love for Brother Charles T. Russell, for his work’s sake, and that we gladly acknowledge that the Lord used him and greatly blessed his work, yet we cannot consistently with the Word of God consent to be called by the name ‘Russellites’; that the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society and the International Bible Students Association and the Peoples Pulpit Association are merely names of corporations which as a company of Christian people we hold, control and use to carry on our work in obedience to God’s commandments, yet none of these names properly attach to or apply to us as a body of Christians who follow in the footsteps of our Lord and Master, Christ Jesus; that we are students of the Bible, but, as a body of Christians forming an association, we decline to assume or be called by the name ‘Bible Students’ or similar names as a means of identification of our proper position before the Lord; we refuse to bear or to be called by the name of any man;
“THAT, having been bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ our Lord and Redeemer, justified and begotten by Jehovah God and called to his kingdom, we unhesitatingly declare our entire allegiance and devotion to Jehovah God and his kingdom; that we are servants of Jehovah God commissioned to do a work in his name, and, in obedience to his commandment, to deliver the testimony of Jesus Christ, and to make known to the people that Jehovah is the true and Almighty God; therefore we joyfully embrace and take the name which the mouth of the Lord God has named, and we desire to be known as and called by the name, to wit, Jehovah’s witnesses.—Isa. 43:10-12.”
There is an interesting footnote at the end of this section in the Proclaimers book which states:
“Although the evidence points persuasively to Jehovah’s direction in selection of the name Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Watchtower (February 1, 1944, pp. 42-3; October 1, 1957, p. 607) and the book New Heavens and a New Earth (pp. 231-7) later pointed out that this name is not the “new name” referred to at Isaiah 62:2; 65:15; and Revelation 2:17, though the name harmonizes with the new relationship referred to in the two texts in Isaiah.”
Interestingly, here there is a clear statement that this name was given through divine providence even though certain clarifications had to be made 13 and 26 years later. It does not state the specific evidence that points so persuasively to Jehovah’s direction. The next factor we will examine is whether this name, Jehovah’s Witnesses, is compatible with the name given Jesus’ disciples in the Bible.
The Name “Christian” and Its Origins.
It is worth reading Acts 11:19-25 where the growth of non-Jewish believers takes place in a large way.
“Now those who had been scattered by the tribulation that arose over Stephen went as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, but they spoke the word only to the Jews. However, some of the men among them from Cyprus and Cyrene came to Antioch and began talking to the Greek-speaking people, declaring the good news of the Lord Jesus. Furthermore, the hand of Jehovah was with them, and a great number became believers and turned to the Lord.
The report about them reached the ears of the congregation in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas as far as Antioch. When he arrived and saw the undeserved kindness of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all to continue in the Lord with heartfelt resolve; for he was a good man and full of holy spirit and faith. And a considerable crowd was added to the Lord. So he went to Tarsus to make a thorough search for Saul.
The congregation in Jerusalem sends Barnabas to investigate and upon his arrival, he is enthused and plays a role in building up this congregation. Barnabas remembers the calling of Saul of Tarsus (see Acts 9) by Jesus a few years earlier and believes this was the prophesied event for him to be the “Apostle to the nations”. He travels to Tarsus, finds Paul and returns to Antioch. It is in Antioch that the name “Christian” is given.
The word “Christian” occurs three times in the New Testament, Acts 11:26 (between 36-44 CE), Acts 26:28 (between 56-60 CE) and 1 Peter 4:16 (after 62 CE).
Acts 11:26 states “After he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So, for a whole year they assembled with them in the congregation and taught quite a crowd, and it was first in Antioch that the disciples were by divine providence called Christians.”
Acts 26:28 states “But Agrippa said to Paul: “In a short time you would persuade me to become a Christian.”
1 Peter 4:16 states “But if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but let him keep on glorifying God while bearing this name.”
The word “Christians” is from the Greek Christianos and comes from Christos meaning a follower of Christ, i.e. Christian. It is in Acts 11:26 where the name is first mentioned, and likely this is because Antioch in Syria was the place where the Gentile conversions take place and Greek would have been the main language.
Unless otherwise specified, all scriptural quotations in this article are taken from the New World Translation 2013 (NWT)—a Bible translation undertaken by the WTBTS. In Acts 11:26, this translation adds the interesting words “by divine providence”. They acknowledge this is not the orthodox translation and explain it in the Proclaimers book. Most translations do not have “by divine providence” but simply “were called Christians.”
The NWT takes the Greek word chrematizo and uses the secondary sense as applicable in this context, hence “divine providence”. The NWT New Testament translation would have been completed early 1950s. What does this mean?
If the orthodox translations are used with the term “were called Christians” there are three possibilities on the origin of the term.
- The local populace used the name as a derogatory term for the followers of the new religion.
- The believers in the local congregation created the term to identify themselves.
- It was by “Divine Providence”.
The NWT, through its choice of translation, discounts the first two options. This means that the term “Christian” is the decision by God to identify the followers of his Son, hence recorded through divine inspiration by Luke.
The salient points are:
- The Bible is accepted by all Christian denominations as a progressive revelation of the will, purpose and plan of Almighty God. This requires a reading of each portion of scripture in context and to draw conclusions based on that context and the stage of revelation reached.
- The name Jehovah’s Witnesses is chosen from Isaiah 43:10-12. This portion of scripture deals with Jehovah demonstrating his supreme Godship as opposed to the false gods of the surrounding nations, and he is calling the Israelite nation to bear witness to his Godship in his dealings with them. The name of the nation was not changed and they were witnesses to his great feats of salvation that he accomplished through that nation. The Israelites never took that portion of scripture as a name to be known by. That passage was written around 750 BCE.
- The New Testament reveals Jesus as the Messiah (Christ, in Greek—both words meaning anointed one), the one who is central to all the prophecies in the Old Testament. (See Acts 10:43 and 2 Corinthians 1:20.) The question arises: What is expected from Christians at this stage of God’s revelation?
- A new name, Christian, is given and based on the NWT Bible it is clear that the name Christian is given by God. This name identifies all who accept and submit to his Son Jesus. This is clearly part of the new revelation as shown in Philippians 2:9-11:“For this very reason, God exalted him to a superior position and kindly gave him the name that is above every other name, so that in the name of Jesus every knee should bend—of those in heaven and those on earth and those under the ground— and every tongue should openly acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”
- The WTBTS claims that only the Bible is the inspired word of God. Their teachings can be adjusted, clarified and changed over time. In addition, there is an eye-witness account given by A. H. Macmillan as follows:
When he was eighty-eight years old A. H. Macmillan attended the “Fruitage of the Spirit” Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the same city. There, on August 1, 1964, Brother Macmillan made these interesting comments on how the adopting of that name came about:“It was my privilege to be here in Columbus in 1931 when we received . . . the new title or name . . . I was amongst the five that were to make a comment on what we thought about the idea of accepting that name, and I told them this briefly: I thought that it was a splendid idea because that title there told the world what we were doing and what our business was. Prior to this we were called Bible Students. Why? Because that’s what we were. And then when other nations began to study with us, we were called International Bible Students. But now we are witnesses for Jehovah God, and that title there tells the public just what we are and what we’re doing. . . .”“In fact, it was God Almighty, I believe, that led to that, for Brother Rutherford told me himself that he woke up one night when he was preparing for that convention and he said, ‘What in the world did I suggest an international convention for when I have no special speech or message for them? Why bring them all here?’ And then he began to think about it, and Isaiah 43 came to his mind. He got up at two o’clock in the morning and wrote in shorthand, at his own desk, an outline of the discourse he was going to give about the Kingdom, the hope of the world, and about the new name. And all that was uttered by him at that time was prepared that night, or that morning at two o’clock. And [there is] no doubt in my mind—not then nor now—that the Lord guided him in that, and that is the name Jehovah wants us to bear and we’re very happy and very glad to have it.”
It is clear that this was a stressful time for the President of the WTBTS and he felt that he needed a new message. Based upon that, he arrives at this conclusion that a new name is required to differentiate this group of Bible students from other Bible student groups and denominations. It is clearly based on human thinking and there is no evidence for Divine Providence.
Additionally, a challenge arises where the inspired account written by Luke gives one name but about 1,950 years later a human gives a new name. Twenty years later the WTBTS translate Acts 11:26 and acknowledge it was by “Divine Providence”. At this point, the contradiction of the new name with scripture becomes very obvious. Should a person accept the inspired biblical record reinforced further by the NWT translation, or follow the guidance of a man who claims no divine inspiration?
Finally, in the New Testament, it is clear that Christians are called to be witnesses not of Jehovah but of Jesus. See Jesus own words in Acts 1:8 which reads:
“But you will receive power when the holy spirit comes upon you, and you will be witnesses of me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the most distant part of the earth.” Also, see Revelation 19:10 – “At that I fell down before his feet to worship him. But he tells me: “Be careful! Do not do that! I am only a fellow slave of you and of your brothers who have the work of witnessing concerning Jesus. Worship God! For the witness concerning Jesus is what inspires prophecy.””
Christians were never known as “Jesus’ Witnesses” even though they bore witness to his sacrificial death and resurrection.
All of this leads to the question: How are Christians to differentiate themselves if not based on names like Catholic, Baptist, Quaker, Jehovah’s Witnesses, et cetera?
Identifying a Christian
A Christian is one who has transformed on the inside (attitude and thinking) but can be recognised by external (behaviour) actions. In order to highlight this a series of New Testament scriptures can be of help. Let’s consider a few of these, all are taken from the NWT 2013 edition.
Matthew 5:14-16: “You are the light of the world. A city cannot be hid when located on a mountain. People light a lamp and set it, not under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it shines on all those in the house. Likewise, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your fine works and give glory to your Father who is in the heavens.”
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus clearly states that his disciples would shine as lights. This light is a reflection of Jesus’ own light as stated in John 8:12. This light consists of more than words; it includes fine works. The Christian faith is a message that must be demonstrated through actions. Hence, a Christian means a follower of Jesus and that is a sufficient designation. Nothing further needs to be added.
John 13:15: “For I set the pattern for you, that just as I did to you, you should also do.” Jesus has just shown the importance of humility by washing the feet of his disciples. He clearly states that he sets a pattern.
John 13:34-35: “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples—if you have love among yourselves.” Jesus follows up the pattern by giving a commandment. The Greek word for love is agape and requires the mind and emotion to be involved. It is based on principle. It calls a person to love the unlovable.
James 1:27: “The form of worship that is clean and undefiled from the standpoint of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their tribulation, and to keep oneself without spot from the world.” James, the half-brother of Jesus, highlights the need for compassion, mercy, kindness and also to keep separate from the world. Jesus prayed for this separation from the world in John Chapter 17.
Ephesians 4:22-24: “You were taught to put away the old personality that conforms to your former course of conduct and that is being corrupted according to its deceptive desires. And you should continue to be made new in your dominant mental attitude, and should put on the new personality that was created according to God’s will in true righteousness and loyalty.” This requires all Christians to put on the new person created in the image of Jesus. The fruitage of this spirit is seen in Galatians 5:22-23: “On the other hand, the fruitage of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.” These are manifested in a Christian’s life.
2 Corinthians 5:20-21: “Therefore, we are ambassadors substituting for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us. As substitutes for Christ, we beg: “Become reconciled to God.” The one who did not know sin, he made to be sin for us, so that by means of him we might become God’s righteousness.” Christians are given a ministry to invite people to enter into a relationship with the Father. This is also connected to Jesus’ instructions words at Matthew 28:19-20: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you. And look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.” All Christians have a responsibility to share this wonderful message.
How this message is shared will be the next article; and a further one, will consider what is the message that Christians should preach?
Jesus replaced the Passover celebrated by the Jews with a Memorial of his death and gave instructions. This happens once a year on the 14th day in the Jewish month of Nisan. All Christians are expected to partake of the bread and wine.
“Also, he took a loaf, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to them, saying: “This means my body, which is to be given in your behalf. Keep doing this in remembrance of me.” Also, he did the same with the cup after they had the evening meal, saying: “This cup means the new covenant by virtue of my blood, which is to be poured out in your behalf.”” (Luke 22:19-20)
Finally, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus clearly stated that there would be true and false Christians and the differentiating point was not a name but their actions. Matthew 7:21-23: “Not everyone saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of the heavens, but only the one doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens will. 22 Many will say to me in that day: ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and expel demons in your name, and perform many powerful works in your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them: ‘I never knew you! Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness!’”
In conclusion, a name is important and to be treasured. It has aspirations, identity, relationships and a future attached to it. There is no better name to be identified by, than the one linked to Jesus: Christian. Once a life has been given to Jesus and his Father, it is the individual’s responsibility to live up to the privilege of bearing such a glorious name and to be part of that eternal family. No other name is necessary.
 The Author is Cyril M Harris and I have a 2001 paperback.
 The term sola scriptura is from the Latin language meaning “only Scripture” or “Scripture alone”. It consists of the words sola, meaning “only,” and scriptura, referring to the Bible. Sola scriptura became popular during the Protestant Reformation as a reaction against some of the practices of the Roman Catholic Church.
 See HELPS Word-Studies and Strong’s reference 1577 on “ekklesia”
 George Fox: An Autobiography (George Fox’s Journal) 1694
 Margery Post Abbott; et al. (2003). Historical dictionary of the Friends (Quakers). p. xxxi.
 Unless otherwise stated, all Bible verses are taken from the New World Translation 2013 Edition. Since a significant part of the article discuss the modern-day denomination of Jehovah’s Witnesses it is only fair to use their preferred translation
 Jehovah’s Witnesses have published various books on their internal history. I have chosen to use Jehovah’s Witnesses—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom 1993. It is should not be viewed as an unbiased recounting of history.
 Jehovah’s Witnesses—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, chapter 11: “How We Came to Be Known as Jehovah’s Witnesses”, page 151.
 Acts 9:15
 Jehovah’s Witnesses—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom chap. 11 pp. 149-150. By 44 C.E. or not long thereafter, faithful followers of Jesus Christ began to be known as Christians. Some claim that it was outsiders who dubbed them Christians, doing so in a derogatory way. However, a number of Biblical lexicographers and commentators state that a verb used at Acts 11:26 implies divine direction or revelation. Thus, in the New World Translation, that scripture reads: “It was first in Antioch that the disciples were by divine providence called Christians.” (Similar renderings are found in Robert Young’s Literal Translation of the Holy Bible, Revised Edition, of 1898; The Simple English Bible, of 1981; and Hugo McCord’s New Testament, of 1988.) By about 58 C.E., the name Christian was well-known even to Roman officials. —Acts 26:28.
w17 1/15 p. 26 par. 12 Who Is Leading God’s People Today? The Governing Body is neither inspired nor infallible. Therefore, it can err in doctrinal matters or in organizational direction. In fact, the Watch Tower Publications Index includes the heading “Beliefs Clarified,” which lists adjustments in our Scriptural understanding since 1870. Of course, Jesus did not tell us that his faithful slave would produce perfect spiritual food. So how can we answer Jesus’ question: “Who really is the faithful and discreet slave?” (Matt. 24:45) What evidence is there that the Governing Body is filling that role? Let us consider the same three factors that directed the governing body in the first century
 A Director of WTBTS since 1917.
 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses 1975 pages 149-151